About Me

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The open fire blazed half-way up the chimney; in the corner of the kitchen the new Bush wireless with the spectacular green eye played out colourless piano music not resting on any ears.

“I’m sick of that bloody stuff on Radio Eireann”

Said my uncle.

“Whatever happened to the old opera arias they used to play ……. Operas like Maritana ……. now there’s music for ye”

His eyes brightened as he broke into song.

“Now let me a soldier fall upon some open plain”

He stopped abruptly.

“Written by a Waterford man you know …… William Wallace”.

He clutched the black poker from the grate and gave the fire a good stoking before resting his head back on the old armchair again.

“Did you know that Cork City was famous the world over for its love and knowledge of Opera”

I nodded my head.

Ordinary fellows like plumbers, labourers and dockers sang Opera arias in pubs around Cork City that time and no one batted an eyelid.

“Ah but the world has changed …….. And Cork has changed too”.

He paused for a moment and tightly closed his eyes.

By now I was hanging on every word.

My uncle Johnny - a small rotund man with a cigarette voice and a heart as big as Africa was holding centre stage in the tiny kitchen. Behind him my aunt worked feverishly – the New World gas stove rising to the occasion as the smell of steak and onions filled the kitchen and began to stalk our noses.

My nose was young – just seven. My grandfather and grandmother had very old noses.

Johnny always loved steak and onions my aunt muttered into the stove. He was back home in Cork from Birmingham having lived through the war as a bomb-damage worker.

And he was now home with us for good.

As the aromas from the noisy pan tantalised my nose even more I began to think that like my uncle I could get to like steak and onions myself. I was glad I had come to visit them today.

In the half-light on a grey November day everything was bubbling up nicely – boiling water was gently poured on to the chump steak and onions and allowed to sizzle; next a cup of bisto all brown and creamy was added to the pan followed by a fistful of fresh herbs. The sprig of thyme held a special position and was added to the pan all by itself. The whole ritual was finished off with a generous sprinkling of salt and black pepper. The dollop of Colman’s mustard completed the proceedings. All were allowed to settle down and gently simmer.

I was growing hungrier by the second but never opened my mouth to ask how long more it would take - I just sat still and hoped it would hurry along. My aunt opened the yard door just in time to hear Shandon strike out four long bells – the afternoon was nearly done.

Soon my waiting was rewarded as the spuds bursting from their overcoats were spilled onto the large blue Queen Victoria plate and placed on the table in front of the fire. Even Inker the cat was growing hungry as he shifted from his corner and stretched out into the centre of the kitchen.

“You can’t bate those spuds, said my uncle “just balls of flower”. By now the gravy was reducing and this resulted in sending even more intense aromas coasting round the kitchen and sending my senses to fever pitch heights. I pulled my seat up next to my uncle as my aunt laid out the plates before us. The fresh Simcox loaf was sent along to mop up the gravy.

Heaven – no heaven on earth is the way I remember that taste.

My grandfather and my grandmother dozing on their chairs, the fire licking the chimney, my aunt’s bib with the one string forever falling down, the sparkle in the cats eyes and my uncle home in Cork City for good …………………

And me a garsun of seven tasting steak for the very first time.



The Shandon Bells ring out midnight just as the arse falls out of the sky. Raindrops like translucent golf balls pelt my bald head but I stay rooted to the cobbled square. Through the wet haze I see the hands of the old clock reach to their full height and the bells sing out to the world that the New Year has just been born. Under the spire of the church, clusters of rain -soaked drunks armed with beer cans and cider bottles slobber about, mauling each other and hailing the arrival of the New Year.

But I’m home at last.

Back in the digs in Romford Ethel and Lily are blotto by now; belting out “AULD LANG SYNE” as if the future of mankind depended on it - the sherry bottles well and truly savaged. They would wear their black satin dresses tonight; they would don their shiniest jewelry. Mick would be seated in his favourite tatty old armchair by the window reminiscing about Achill, and Charlie would be toasting the charms of ‘the foxy lady’. Soon Ethel will have Bing crooning on the gramophone and the two Paddies will be cajoled and coerced into waltzing with their landladies. Ethel will present her bare neck to Mick to be kissed under the paper Chinese lantern, but Mick will misunderstand again unable to pluck up the courage to put his lips to her fake-bronzed neck. Lily will tighten her grip on Charlie and pull him to her ample bosom.

And so their night will drift on.

But my journey into the night is just beginning.

With the rain gathering even more venom I amble down Shandon Street.

How the place has changed. I close my eyes and wonder back.

I’m coming down that hill again only this time I’m running with Francie McGrath, and Sonny McCarthy is a few strides behind us, our chests busting as we try to escape the clutches of Mr Bernstein. I have the flash lamp firmly gripped and we hear Mr Bernstein shouting in desperation “robbers”, “ robbers” in a funny voice. Sonny tumbles an old woman in a black shawl behind us, and as we disappear down Shandon Street we can still hear her screeches rising in the morning sunshine. Mr Bernstein is unable to run because of the war and his old legs; so we reach Nosey Keeffe’s sweet shop at the bottom of Shandon Street armed with our grand prize. For weeks we leered at that flashlamp in the window of Bernstein’s Pawnshop and it took a monumental effort of courage to steal it on that day.

But it’s hard to find courage now.

Leaving behind my adopted family in Romford - a sad bunch of full - blown alcos stuck in a time zone long past gone. Leaving behind those boring red-bricked stony houses.

And leaving behind the all broken dreams of a wasted life.

Arriving in Cork with the knowledge that my Ma and Pa have well and truly passed on, and that burning word cancer rolling around in my head .

Did not even see the father or mother grow old – too busy in The Crown And Arms.

The rain is easing now, but the memories are flooding back. The wind is gathering strength again and the lingering bunch push further in against the big shinny door of Mulcahy’s bakery; while across the street Reilly’s pub looks dim and dusty. Tiny arrows of light are darting through moth holes on faded yellow curtains. Look! there is still a division in the half-door and strong porter fumes are pouring out into the night to assail and tantalize the bunch just across the road. I could swear I saw my uncle Charlie there with that bunch, his fag dangling from his lips, his expectation high as usual that he might pick up a bob or two for a few pints – Charlie was always on the make.

But this night is playing tricks with me. I gather myself together and scoop the rain off my head with my hand; I’m wet to the bone but relentlessly I stumble on down the hill like some kind of wild salmon returning home.

I see Lily Barrett now smiling at me from the top window – her blond curls swinging around like a carousel – she is waving to me now and blowing kisses my way; but it is too late now – too late for everyone. She was barely fourteen when she was killed by that lorry. How I cried salty tears that long night when I heard the news, and how I hid the pillow case from my mother the next day, for fear she would discover that I had being crying all night, and that I was in love with Lily. Lily herself did not even know of my deep passion for her and departed this world before I ever had the opportunity to tell her. I wave back to her but there is nothing there but a curtain swirling in the wind, on I go edging ever nearer to the sharp turn at Nosey Keeffe’s shop. I hurry past O Connor’s Funeral Parlor at North Gate Bridge casting a sideways glance at the wreaths in the window - all flowery and eerie this New Years night.

The river Lee stretches below me – my beloved Lee. It stinks to high heavens. Look at those two women coming from the tenements each carrying a pisspot; Christ, they’re carrying them over to the river and emptying them right into the river.

“Stop that at once, isn’t the river smelly enough for you”

But the women ignore me as if I wasn’t here, and they fade away into the dark landscape as quickly as they came into view. But the river continues to elbow its way to the sea as if in a hurry now to get away from the revelries of the city and head into the black abyss. Meanwhile a lone swan examines his distorted image in the water, casts an eye in my direction, shakes his head and continues on his way. The tenements on Bachelors Quay from where the two women emerged all lit up now. The gang in the tenements always knew how to celebrate; they even have flags hanging out the windows.

The wind has died away and an eerie silence fills the night. Ethel and Lily are sleeping by now; draped over the tattered sofa while the two Paddies could lift a thatched roof with the sound of their snoring. But all is peaceful here except for the gurgling sounds of the river. I cross over the Bridge and I see the slipway where I went on my first boat trip all those years ago. I was no more than six the time – I can still feel those ripples of excitement as I set foot in the shaky boat. The fisherman who owned the boat was Mr. Benson who lived next door to us in Kyle Street and I pestered him for weeks for a spin in the boat. I can see Mr Benson now in his boat in the slipway – he is waving at me, he still has the same old navy blue sweater on him, he is calling me down from the Bridge.

“I’m coming down, I’m coming down”

I race around the bridge and head for the slip but all I can see is a long reflection in the water - Mr Benson is not there. A pity, that first trip on the Lee was more exciting that any trip up the Amazon.

But I’m heading home, heading home for the very last time and I have not far to go; just half – way up North Main Street. As I pass Murphy’s pub I detect the faintest whisper of a gadget in the background. I move closer and put my air to the door; I can hear it now. The haunting sound of a slow air – as the curve of the sound rises and falls I’m spellbound and rooted to the spot. Gradually the light rises inside the pub and I can see Dinny Mac - his gadget lying sideways on his lap, his head to one side and his stare firmly on the ceiling. As he continues to draw out the magic from the gadget, I frantically wave at him but he ignores me, and just plays on. And the music dies in the gadget the lights fade and I’m left peering into a musty darkness. The smells of the street feels so intimate to me …. I start touching the walls… the doors… even the footpath – they are part of me. I know I am home now- back in my own little world. Suddenly the silence is cut in two by the clip-clop of horses. I stand to admire. Four magnificent black horses, all polished and shiny are pulling a Simcox bread van – the sound of their hooves beating out an everlasting tattoo on the cobbled street. Mr Cassidy is on board, wearing black tails and that funny tall hat.

“Five loafs and two fishes” I call out to him

He just smiles at me and proceeds up North Main Street and out of sight. I know I am truly home when I see Maggie Keeshan at the corner of Kyle Street. Her sing- song voice is still as strong as ever.

“ Six apples again for twopence ”

She is perched on her wooden box, all dark and hairy, her shawl hanging loosely round her fat body, her craggy hands falling out from under all that black. She smiles in my direction and points towards my old home.

Slowly I make my way up to 14 Kyle Street. All the lights in the house are switched on. I move forward slowly, my stomach churning, my breath heaving in my chest. I remember slamming that big red door all those years ago; a tattered old bag in my hand and my stupid young head full of anger and rage.

Now I’m back – back for the last time.

I peer through the large front window – there is a huge fire blazing. I see my Ma and Da – Christ they have not aged one bit. My mother is seated beside the fire and my father is putting a little boy onto a rocking horse. The little boy slips off the rocking horse much to the dismay of my father and with anger etched on my father’s face he roughly places him back on the horse again. I am so excited to see my father and mother again I rap frantically on the window – but they ignore me.

I cry out.

“ Ma, Da, it’s me, your little boy has come home”

My mother continues to gaze at the fire, the small boy is laughing up at his father.

I’m still knocking on the window.

In desperation I shout out.

“Ma, Da, your little boy has come home to die ……. I’ve come home to die”

My mother head moves, my father stops rocking the horse and suddenly the little boy fades away

My Ma and Da turn their gazes at me and both their eyes light up into that final smile.


Today was just another day.

The autumn sun split the cobweb on the window and landed lightly on Jimmy’s sore head. Jimmy’s head was always sore especially in the mornings. On the mantelpiece a dusty statue of the Enfant de Prague was stony silent gazing down on the scene below - a scrawny man in his late fifties with Spanish black hair, but Irish to his very core. So Irish he was a navvy for twenty five years with John Bull, and was now home to run down the clock on his last few years - his own pub words.

The shit-stained sheets, the yellow-white curtains; and the forty watt bulb hanging naked over his head were his constant companions. The musty smell that dominated every room shouted out that this house was on its last legs; and not a euro anywhere to stick a lick of paint on the weeping walls. Jimmy rubbed his moist brow, drew a fag from the porter-stained box, searched frantically for his matches and wondered where in Christ’s name he would find an aspro. After four attempts he got a match to light and stuffed it up against the fag now drooping from his crusty lips.

He lobbed the black match in the direction of the crystal ashtray on the floor and missed again. Would never make a golfer he thought. Just like the racing; couldn’t make it as a jockey either – hopes dashed after five long years in Newmarket. He still remembered the day he left Ireland with hopes sky high; his mother’s hopes even higher.

“He’s going to England to become a famous jockey you know”

She told everyone she came across.

“Now, wasn’t he lucky he was born small?”

Jimmy was always amused by those words, strange words for any mother to use, he often thought. He didn’t grow much in all the years, and he certainly didn’t put on weight – you would need to eat food to do that!

Now that his mother was lying out in Joseph’s Cemetery, his chances of finding a few euros for a cure - the hair of the dog he called it - were remote on this Monday morning. He shuffled over again in the bed as the low sun sneaked under the dresser and to light up the face of his mother on the old black and white photo on the ground. It had fallen out of his hand the night before when he was full of porter.

Her gaze was firmly fixed on him.

“Ma would you for Christ sake let me alone”

He called out in the direction of the photo.

“I buried you over two weeks ago and you are still on to me, will I ever get a bit of peace.”

He barely had the words out.

“Ma, for Christ sake you know I don’t mean that, I’m all over the place today”

He stubbed out the half-burned fag on the ground as he wriggled from the bed; his balls hanging out over his lose underpants. He pushed everything back in some kind of order, pulled his trousers up on his boney frame and threw his old navy jumper over his head. The bluebottle perched high on the dresser saw him scrambling round the house in a vain attempt to find an aspro – the only tablet he ever found to dampen down a headache. Dejected he wriggled round in the scullery and poured water into the battered kettle, before again starting the ritual with the matches. He was getting lucky – just two matches before the gas was spluttering under the kettle. He pushed aside the stale half-pan loaf and went straight for the coffee. Black. There was a tap on the door. When he opened, he saw the beaming smile of his neighbour accompanied by her young daughter.

“Mr Jim, my daughter Felcia has just made her First Holy Communion”

The young child smiled into Jimmy’s face.

“Because she’s a sick little girl she’s did not have to wait until May”

Jimmy’s eyes lit up and he stretched his brown fingers out like a piano player and placed them softly on the child’s head. His first thought was that he needed a twenty euro note.

“Oh she looks so beautiful ... it was nice of you to come and see me.”

Already he was feeling the embarrassment.

But he was also feeling something else – it was the fist time in ages anyone had come to see him.

“It is a lonely time for us, so far from our home in Poland, we were all dressed up on Saturday and we had no one to visit”

He could see that look in her eyes; he understood lonely.

“Well I’m delighted to see you … maybe you might drop over again on Thursday….. You never know I might have something for this little girl”

Thursday was social welfare day.

“Do not worry about money; that is not important”

And the conversation dried up.

With radiant smiles they both disappeared.

Jimmy closed the door and headed for his armchair, lit the match at the first attempt, reddened the tip of the fag and sent curly smoke swirling to the ceiling.

“Imagine someone coming to see me”

Even the day his mother was buried the house was empty; his sister paid for the food and the drink and his black tie and vanished once more out of his life.

But he did not bear a grudge; never in his nature.

Strange he thought, just sitting there on the chair how his thumping headache had disappeared just like the smoke. He thought about his two visitors; how gentle they both were; gentle people go through life too. He remembered the hard men he met in England on the lump. Men with hands like iron shovels and hearts like raw steel.

‘Here comes Jimmy the Jockey, couldn’t ride a rocking horse’

Jesus they were great gaz at the Crown and Stag. He remembered the first day he started driving the dumper on the site, all broken up inside after his sacking in Newmarket. When the word filtered through that Jimmy was an ex- jockey the hard men had a field day.

“The Dumper will be ridden today by Jimmy The Jockey, and is now ten to one to win 3.30 at Sandown.”

The fun was amazing.

All words printed on his brain still, especially the words of his governor.

“Sorry to let you go but you will never make it at this level”

He left the stables with his brown case and his shattered dream and headed for the bus; his eyes full of water, his mother’s words swirling round in his head.

‘He’s going to England to become a famous jockey you know’

The staccacco thoughts beating again throughout his head.

He rose from the armchair and went for the kettle again and made more coffee with the lukewarm water. He lingered on a little longer on the armchair pondering his life in England, and wondered who might be driving his dumper now. Fool he was for thinking that he could turn a new leaf when he returned to Ireland – he got worse. His mother in her old age cried salty tears and wore out many a rosary bead in almighty efforts to get him to stop drinking.

All failed.

Perhaps there is no cure for loneliness!

Any other Monday morning he would be well on his rounds by now testing all the old haunts where he might pick up a few euros for a cure; but somehow his visitors had changed all that and the manic urgency had dissipated into the morning air. When the smoke had escaped completely from the room, the bluebottle left his perch on the dresser and sang songs as he circled Jimmy’s head. Another day Jimmy would frantically chase the bluebottle with a dishcloth, but today he just leaned his head against the stained covering of the armchair and left the humming sound of the bluebottle lull him into a gentle sleep. By the time he woke up the sun was beginning to die in the sky, and the different shades of autumn darkness were gathering outside. His mother’s clock on the mantelpiece had stopped ticking and the hands had died at twelve on the dot.

“The first time the clock had ever stopped,” he murmured to himself.

His mother was so proud of that clock

“The best timekeeper this side of the equator”

She proudly told every visitor to the house.

Jimmy again thought of his own visitors. This little child all dressed up and no one to visit - in the greatest week of her life.

And she only seven!

The day was passing by and he hardly noticed that his lips had not touched a drink – no fast pints of Guinness or chasers to steady the ship on this Monday. Though he was stony broke and not a morsel of food in the cupboard he still felt strangely in control.

“Will leave it until the evening now,” he told himself.

Later he would go for his few pints; pick up a loan from the lads on their way home from work. He put his head outside the back door to check the day and the smells and aromas from the chipper wafted round his nostrils. For the first time in years he felt hungry; hungry for food. He thought of Arthur his cat; that blighter was always hungry.

Mad Murph gave him the loan - forty euros. Seven pints and a few chasers and enough to buy a few tins of cat food in the morning; he was calculating in his head as he headed for the nearest pub in Barrack Street. The hill took his breath and he had to stop and invoke the help of his inhaler. He smiled inside when he remembered the words of Dinny McGrath.

“What is worse than having an inhaler; not having an inhaler when you can’t breathe of course?”

He needed it today. My God this hill was getting steeper by the day.

When he had recovered he began to make his way to The Rusty Nail pub. The smell of porter greeted him at the front door. He stopped once, twice; he was reluctant to go on through the door. There was a quietness about the place this Monday night – the dart players had not yet arrived. The light coming out to greet him did not have the same magic lure – there was something different about the world tonight. Perhaps it’s me he thought. His legs felt heavy and his breathing seemed fast and erratic – it’s strange what happens to a body when it’s deprived of the nourishment of porter; the lads always said. Jimmy decided to go down the hill to Geary’s shop and pick up the few tins for Arthur - it would be handy to have the food for the hungry blighter in the morning. He passed the Karaoke Bar on his way down; it was just revving up for the night ….

‘Everybody talks about a new world in the morning’

The croaking voice was blasting out …. Into the autumn air.

Roger Whittaker, he remembered. He put his hand into his inside pocket and took out the twenty spot just to make sure it was there; suddenly a ferocious choking pain enveloped his neck and chest and he fell to the ground. The crisp twenty euro note flew from his grasp and floated down the hill. The stare grew in his eyes as it eventually settled on a star in the distance.

The Karaoke bar was still howling; Arthur was returning home after his few days rambling and Felcia was still peering into the long mirror and admiring her Communion Dress as the ambulance man pushed Jimmy’s eye shut.

His mother would have been proud – he did the last day without.




That white paper lunchbag

Held in brown tobacco fingers.

Vivid those hands

Craftman's hands, old, mahogany stained.

Eyes : grandfather eyes

Seeking me out

Through a rusty schoolyard gate.


That long walk to Lee Fields

Where we picked piss-a-beds

For his unsuspecting birds -

Goldfinches and brown linnets.

Our riverbank shadows

Criss-crossing, mingling

Under a low September sky,

Gathering together

Bunches of wormy weeds,

Slimy stems with weepy yellow heads

Our golden harvest.

Vivid also

Little whitewashed birdroom,

The chirping birds

The scattered seed

The half assembled cages

The chaos -

With the smell and taste of freedom.

Dusty skylight

Though which a tiny eye

Could see another Heaven.

Years later

When illness struck

I stood at the foot of the bed,

Understood when he waved me away

That other souls were seeking his company.

AT Curraghkippane Cemetery
Nestling between wood and river

I said farewell,

And as I left the graveyard

His wild songbirds were gathering -

Hovering above,

Little feathered Angels

Ready to carry him

Across a brightening sky,

So that his brown fingers

His mahogany hands

Could touch another gate

Another Paradise.

jim archer



Old man,

I never knew your name

Yet, I sent you to your Maker

With the smell of my tobacco

On your breath.

You must have loved that pipe

For at dead of night

In our shadowy hospital ward

You summoned up the courage

To ask me for a fill,

I packed your pipe

Full of the warmest Erinmore.

You thanked me with your hand

And slowly, you lit up a little piece of heaven

For yourself

As you drew in that first long smoke.

At four you signalled me

To put your pipe away

And when you held my hand

I knew your strength had gone.

Before first milking you departed

..........Leaving behind a young man

Warm, that in lonely hours

Lit a tiny halo on an old man's pipe.




Thinking in landscape

Might stretch my mind

And extend out to 3000 A.D.

And try to imagine how life might be –



Me Me





She came from Texas

Down our street

In a taxi

Blonde hair swirling

Our tiny hearts

She’s going in to number seven

I cried out to the gang

Two old people lived there

We never glanced at this house before

But all had now changed



She was on the other end

Listening to my jittery voice

Spelling out

“The doctor said my chances were good”


Only die

And that heart by - passes was almost routine


Well something like that

Her nervous voice agreed.

I was facing into the dark

And digging into myself

For some light

And making my first call

On my first mobile phone.




Pen at the ready

I wait with blank sheet

To shape falling words

Shapeless words

My heart still hopes to nurture

To put in order upon the page

'till they can breathe themselves



Divided old River Lee

You held us together,

Your streams - our dreams

Trapped in old ways,

You left us to create our Gods

From within -

Ringey, Holy Joe, Andy Gaw.

Our tribe admired genius

Respected egits,

For we all drank from the same Mad Chalice

With bishops, priests and mercy nuns.

Divided Old River Lee

You flowed in our veins

Through blood-red hearts,

You sent passions cascading like our voices

Lilting singing cursing crying breathing

Dying ; Entombing the past.

Finally to awake to see silver droplets

Riding clouds above Goughane.

Oh our new waters – our new dreams

Rushing out to Roches Point

And beyond to Sargasso Sea.

jim archer



It could have been another shopping day
In just about any other Irish town
But today was different.
For lurking in the August sunshine
Was the sleeping monster -
A monster with a ticking brain
Waiting for his web to fill
Before unleashing his deadly venom.
August lives up to its name
As the Lunatic month.
The monster's friends slither away
Before the rage,
Not waiting to see the mangled party.
The toddler paddles his way through the gory pool
His dry voice finding no ears-

Oh Ma ! Oh Ma!


Where are you?



And now the sludge is cementing throwaway things

Their glory days well faded

Slimy condoms spent of all pulsating life

Now homes for slippery worms

That crystal jug too

Once king of the cabinet - the prized Wedding Gift

Whose brilliance was shattered on the kitchen floor

Now lies half buried

Ready to slit the beaks

Of the marauding gulls

Like us their bickering goes on

Incessant! Incessant! Incessant!

Arguments tearing them apart and shitering on the graves of

Our dreams

Before the incoming tide



On Monday last in Corcagh Park

An elderly tree collapsed and died

(natural causes)

Removal will take place

In coming week

By nearby residents,

To be cremated in suburban fireplaces.

Sadly missed by birds, rats, flies, creepy crawlies;

A host of other friends.

Word of thanks to

Sun, rain and earth for


A treasured life.

jim archer



My clay moulding

An earthy blanket

Around me.

This resting ground is suburban,

Corporation approved and stamped.

I'm officially held

And secured with stony pebbles

That beat an everlasting tattoo

On my hard clay,

Challenging me

To warm up,


And beat this one.